In this absorbing account of the origins of the Asia-Pacific War, historian John Gripentrog argues that competing ideologies of world order—chiefly the rift between liberal internationalism and Pan-Asian regionalism—lay at the heart of the conflict. Drawing from a rich diversity of primary and secondary sources, the author also examines the Japanese government’s vigorous cultural diplomacy in the U.S., which sought to win over American hearts and minds and soft-pedal its imperialist ambitions in Asia. The result is a book that both challenges and amplifies standard interpretations of US-Japan relations in the interwar era, while weaving diplomatic, political, intellectual, and cultural history. Moreover, the author’s wide-angle lens offers readers insights into a fascinating assemblage of historical actors—from Japanese and American diplomats, politicians, and military leaders, to cosmopolitan art enthusiasts and major league baseball players.
John Gripentrog is professor of history at Mars Hill University, North Carolina. He earned his PhD from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and specializes in US foreign relations in East Asia. Dr. Gripentrog is the recipient of the Robert S. Gibbs Outstanding Teaching Award at Mars Hill University as well as the Letters and Science Teaching Award at UW–Madison.
Notes on Usage
1 “Too Proud to Fight”: The Dream World of Orderly Processes (1919–1930)
2 Toward Two Worlds: The Manchurian Crisis (1931–1933)
3 Japan’s Charm Offensive (1933–1934)
4 The High Tide of Cultural Diplomacy (1935–1936)
5 A New Order in East Asia (1937–1938)
6 “This Mad World of Ours” (1939–1940)
7 “So Many Unexplainable Things Are Happening” (1940–1941)
About the Author
John Gripentrog’s Prelude to Pearl Harbor reminds us that we still have much to learn about the onset of the Pacific War. For those unfamiliar with the period, Gripentrog provides an exceptionally clear narrative of the unfolding war and the early American response. Drawing on Japanese- and English-language source material, the author successfully examines the clash between the American ‘ideology of liberal internationalism’ and Tokyo’s ‘exclusive regionalist arrangement.’ While this clash has been studied before, Gripentrog’s focus on Japanese soft power, specifically the Kokusai Bunka Shinkōkai [Society for International Cultural Relations], is new, and his conclusion that KBS initiatives backfired by feeding a prevailing American misperception of a Japan divided between peaceful moderates and fire-eating militarists is particularly compelling.… Coverage of KBS alone, which the author does better than anyone, is reason enough to read his latest work. Prelude to Pearl Harbor…will surely move even the most skeptical reader to appreciate the mammoth ideological divide separating the two combatants….and… the remarkably different world that each side fought to create.
In examining the lead-up to the infamous 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Gripentrog argues that traditional explanations, which focus on Japan's desire to secure resources and markets as a factor catalyzing war in the Pacific, ignore the true fundamental cause: irreconcilable ideological views held in Washington, DC, and Tokyo regarding the principles of world order…. Well-written and succinctly argued…. Highly recommended. General readers through faculty; professionals.
John Gripentrog gives us an expanded and energized understanding of a troubled period of international history. Recurring themes are treated in fascinating depth, including the American insistence on ‘orderly processes’ of world order and the mirage entertained by Ambassador Joseph Grew and others that a liberal element among Japan’s leaders would ultimately rise to disable the hawks. By astute use of archival documents, diaries, press materials, and reliable published accounts of the period, Gripentrog brings to life key historical personalities including Cordell Hull, Hirota Kōki, Matsuoka Yōsuke, and Franklin Roosevelt. Graced with lucid, quality prose, the book is a captivating read.
“…an original contribution to the scholarship on the 1930s. The book is evenly balanced in explaining Japanese and American policy making and describing the people responsible for those policies. A synthesis in the best sense of the word.”
“…an important contribution to understanding the ideological dimension of the crisis that led to the Pacific War….an excellent discussion of ‘liberal internationalism’ as a key to tracing US-Japan relations in the aftermath of the Great War.”
In this excellent book, John Gripentrog traces the complex ways in which ideology, cultural relations, and policy were knotted together in US-Japan relations between the world wars. The reward for readers is a deepened understanding of the bumpy road that led to World War II and beyond.
…a cogent and timely study of how the United States and Japan came to blows in the Pacific.
…a brisk and insightful book on U.S.-Japanese relations in the interwar period…. By situating his story of cultural diplomacy in the broader context of U.S.-Japanese interwar relations, Gripentrog shows how fundamental ideological differences made overcoming supposed misunderstandings on both sides impossible. The result is a useful synthesis of U.S.-Japanese relations, punctuated by colorful characters like the diplomat and University of Oregon law school graduate Matsuoka Yōsuke, and scenes such as baseball icon Babe Ruth’s 1934 visit to Japan.
“…possibly the best account to date of the 1930s divide between the United States and Japan as reflected in both sides’ official diplomacy…. gripping in its telling.”
“…a masterful work… one of the most highly researched and documented accounts of the Pacific War.”
“…an invaluable addition to the historiography of US-Japan relations…written in lucid and compelling prose.”
“A welcome addition to the literature on the origins of the Pacific War and a provocative reassessment of the legacy of liberal internationalism.”
"…a brisk and insightful book on U.S.-Japanese relations in the interwar period…punctuated by colorful characters like the diplomat and University of Oregon law school graduate Matsuoka Yōsuke, and scenes such as baseball icon Babe Ruth’s 1934 visit to Japan."
Learn more about the author and his works at: https://johngripentrog.com/